Saturday, January 14, 2006

Poems and play dates, microscopes and maths


Pearl and I left Leo over with the grandmothers and then hurried home via the charity shop. The charity shop came up trumps again and I spent £3.70 I shouldn't have! For this we got:
A complete box of original octons (the 1970s transluscent ones)
An almost complete set of a construction toy called Mottix
An old Waddingtons puzzle thing, where you have to make a rectangle out of the pieces, without the different colours touching. It took Dani about 1 minute – grrr!
An unused Tarquin book of press out and create paper jewelry.

After a speedy lunch Pearl and I started to make a knitting frame – as described in the library book about string. I was very impressed by Pearl's dedication and guts – measuring, marking, sawing and hammering. She is very good at using her mitre saw and she clearly loves this kind of project. She was a bit anxious about fingers getting hit with the hammer so I got each nail started and she did the final few whacks on each one. We had to stop after we'd made the basic frame, as we found we didn't have the right kind of nails to finish it. Luckily, one of the grandmothers does upholstery and was able to supply some pins that will work. We'll post a picture when it's finished. I hope it works!

Leo arrived home with a big bag full of cardboard creations. He and my mum had hurried up the steep hill laden down with all this. My mum is waiting to find out if her shoulder will need surgery, after a nasty break and dislocation, so I'm not sure if she should be lugging robots about!

In the evening Dani went out to a Woodcraft folk training session and the kids and I had to ration out the bedtime story reading.


Pearl went downstairs alone first thing as she wanted to write a poem. She spent a good hour on it, making rough notes and then finally coming back with a neat version, written with her cartridge pen.

Untitled poem by Pearl

at 7 o'clock in the morning,
a farmer was drinking his tea,
he went to see his uncle,
but then got stung by a bee!

he went to feed his cows and chickens,
he went home to feed his horses,
the chickens weren't at home you see,
they'd been captured by strange forces!

the forces are not here today,
the forces are on holiday,
they are in the caribean,
and they are very very mean!

Needless to say I love this poem – it is very Pearlie.

Meanwhile, Leo was drawing a beautiful big picture of 'My Dragon World' on lining paper. Leo is not very interested in exploring other materials, though we have watercolours, pencils, pastels and chalks, he always wants pens. So I offered him a bigger bit of paper and he seemed to enjoy it.

I unpacked a Tesco delivery while the kids pottered and played, and then Dani arrived home and we had lunch.

I went off to work for the afternoon and evening.

Back at home Dani and Leo decided to look at their hair with our microscope. Apparently it was very shiny, like wire, and not really the colour that it appears to be on their heads. They then looked at grains of salt, which just looked like big grains of salt! Then Dani took the kids to capoeira, with their local cousins S and D. It was good for a while but Pearl accidently kicked her cousin S in the neck, so they didn't bother staying for the second hour.


Pearl went to her bigger kids home ed group, where there was some discussion of a home ed awareness event that is being planned at a local, alternative café and bookshop. Then she went over to her grandmothers' for some cards and French.

After a fairly slow start to the morning (a lurking migraine…) I went off to work and Dani and Leo looked at more things with the microscope – a tissue, a silk scarf, a piece of banana, a bit of red pepper and a drop of orange juice. After this they did an experiment that someone posted on one of the home ed lists. They used fizzy fanta, vegetable oil, food colouring and salt and saw various things: the food colouring doesn't colour the oil, the oil and water separate, and the salt realeases a lot of carbon dioxide from the fizzy drink to make an 'eruption'.

Leo went, with his aunt, to collect his cousin B (6) from school. Then he went back to B's house to play. Once Pearl had arrived back from the grandmothers' house she and Dani went round and played at B's house too. The kids had tea there and then came home and watched tv.

When I got home from work Dani I had a long talk about maths – late into the night. My insecurity about maths occasionally nags at me and I wonder if we are offering Pearlie the right things, or in the right way. Because Pearl has such a facility with number I worry that I just don't understand enough to be useful to her. Dani was a great help and we read a lot at this interesting site and I felt better.

A workbooks aside
Part of my anxiety about maths was about my own tendency to offer Pearlie workbook activities that I can see are pretty crap – just because I doubt my own ability to engage in more creative mathematical activities. In general I am getting less and less tolerant of workbooks. I don't object to puzzles, diversions that are there for you to exercise your brain, like crosswords, kakuro and so on. But I find that most workbooks are really tests, either in disguise or not. We never buy the 'literacy' or 'english' ones as I always turn a page or two and find myself despairing over the pointlessness of the exercises. I feel confident enough with reading and writing to know that the kids don't need anything like that. Comprehension exercises are my pet hate. I remember junior school English lessons that included hours of these things and I was always utterly mystified by them. I would do them, get all ticks and v.g. but never understood why on earth they would give me something to read and then ask me what it said – with the piece of writing there in front of me! I also despair at the things that ask you to re-tell a beautiful piece of writing in your own clunky prose. If s/he said it so well then let's just leave it there! The books that 'go with' wonderful children's fiction tend to have this kind of thing in them. Anyway, I guess we'll always have some workbooks around, but I do think they tend to make heavy weather of nothing much in the most tedious way possible.


Dani went off to work and the kids and I watched 'Building the Impossible' in which a group of people made a giant roman catapult. I love these kind of programmes because I enjoy watching the people – their excitement and enthusiasm for the project, and their camaraderie and sense of common purpose. Pearl and Leo liked the catapult. When this was over we set off to a home ed group that we go to sometimes. The group was good – busy and buzzing and we met some new people. I chatted and the kids played chasing games and air hockey. Leo and I were tired – Leo because he keeps staying up late reading The Secret Country, and me because I had awful nightmares last night – probably related to the migraine I have been determinedly not having. My dream last night was so tiring because in it Dani was dead and I was wailing and sobbing! I don't think I was making any noise IRL but somehow it still tired me out.

This afternoon the kids played with duplo (Leo) and Brio train set (P) and helped me here and there while I bathed Bunny and Hank. The piggies tolerated it and I gave them radical haircuts to make the grooming easier.

Dani had to go to another Woodcraft meeting tonight – after a long rant by me on how over-committed we are getting! We just don't get enough family time at the moment, what with work for both of us, and the various groups we are involved in. This week has included two nights when I worked until 8pm and two when Dani had to go out to meetings. This weekend I will be working both Saturday and Sunday, and then we're off into the next week… When we get a break it's great – but three month stretches of our current routine are pretty tiring. We need to put regular family time into our timetable. It really makes me laugh to think that people worry that home educating families are insular and their children don't socialise.


Dani said...

The orange juice was the best thing we looked at under the microscope - it was moving! It looked like there were little streams flowing about in there. Would that be Brownian motion, does anybody know?

Sarah said...

Hiya, I've no idea about the orange juice but it sounds fascinating and we are now going to have to get our microscope out and have a look lol!

I was just going to say to Allie, please don't worry about the maths thing too much - I have dyscalculia and used to frequently panic about maths and try different methods with Rosie. In the end we opted for Montessori stuff because it demonstrates different mathematical concepts in a way which even I can understand :) Also, Cuisenaire rods, which I haven't tried but have heard are excellent.

Heather said...

I'm in!!!

I'm with you on the workbooks, **especially** literacy ones but I wholeheartedly disagree about comprehension.
There's no point doing it if it's hated, granted, or doing crappy, ill thought out stuff (as the workbook style stuff tends to be), but good comprehension (like the OUP)encourages you to think more broadly about the reading, in the same way that you do later when writing critiques of literature. Just re-writing the story isn't decent comprehension at all as it should be more like detective work. I *might* be biased because I love comprehension and I was thrilled the first time Pip did some (on a timeline) and literally begged me to get her more :-)

I totally understand about having little time all's rough and there are no easy solutions. Sometimes I feel like Sim and I leap frog from holiday to holiday (in terms of our relationship, we both do reasonably well spending time with the children, obviously I do very well there and we try to plan in some time altogether in the week somewhere!). Passing ships in the night and all that! I love having kids and I wouldn't wish it gone for anything but I know I'll also enjoy the time when they're older and Sim and I get more time together too.

When you're dreaming aren't you in the shallower REM sleep than the really refreshing deep sleep? Or am I getting fuddled? I always feel knackered after riotous dreams too.

Look forward to seeing the knitting frame and perhaps a pic of the lovely Hank and the haircut?

Allie said...

Yes, I probably did get carried away on the comprehension trashing!

I know what you mean about the detective nature of it but I think that most exercises for kids tend to reduce that to ripping out the adjectives and similar pointless things. Also, I don't like the way they tend to implicitly reduce the value of individual response to a text - e.g. did you notice the three relevant adjectives or the fact that the day was cloudy? If you did then you got it 'right' and if you were busy noticing, or remembering, or questioning, something else then you didn't read it 'right'.

I think when Pearl or Leo read at the moment one of the most valuable things they are doing is making connections to other things they have read and building up a sense of what different kinds of text there are. I remember the clear distinction I drew, as a child, between the passages they'd make me read and then question me on (I was very detached) and the text I read for pleasure, with which I engaged to the extent that I can still re-call the emotional response I had to particular books.

Heather said...

"ripping out the adjectives and similar pointless things"

No, that's not the sort of thing we do here! I've got a homeschool friend who's children do an awful lot of *that* sort of exercise but I've always thought it rather pointless. I see the purpose of comprehension as getting a deeper understanding of the text, of the author's intentions. Again, if this turns you off the text then it's a harmful exercise and shouldn't be done. The comprehension she does at home (and they use the same scheme in her school)uses extracts from a variety of texts (fiction and non fiction) rather than asking her to analyse a book she's reading for pleasure, which I don't think she'd appreciate at this age.

"one of the most valuable things they are doing is making connections to other things they have read"

Oh, absolutely! Making connections, both within literature and the wider world is a major brain builder. Radiant thinking and all that :-)

Heather said...

I've bookmarked that maths site for future reading...looks really enlightening :-)

ione said...

i wish i had a microscope to look at orange juice and hair!!!!!! hope to see you soon

Allie said...

Hi there Ione! You must come round and use our microscope some time.

Heather, I must have a look at the books you use - did you say OUP? I looked on their web site but there were no sample pages. I guess there may be some in Borders I can look at. Just because I've got a chip on my shoulder doesn't mean our P shouldn't have a chance to see what she thinks.

Getting a sense of the author's intentions is a contentious thing in the world of literary criticism, I think. I have a vague memory of my housemate at uni trying to explain to me the concept of 'death of the author' which, I think, was all about not trying to work out the author's intentions?? Mind you, that was fifteen years ago, and who knows what the current ideas are! I am afraid I gave up on all that after A level Eng Lit. I have a horrible feeling I hurled my copy of Lawrence's 'The Rainbow' into the spinney on campus after the exam - the only time I've ever destroyed a book.

Heather said...

ROFL! Yes Allie, I don't think we're supposed to question the artists intentions either; I get frowned at if I ask Sim's brother to explain his installations.

And laughing aside I think there's a lot of merit in that particuarly when applied to comprehension of literature at the level we're discussing it. Then we can do away with the idea of a child's "wrong" or "right" understanding of a text. The OUP is cool and I can give you the link, but better still I'll take some pics later today and put them on flickr for you tonight. :-)

Heather said...

Okay, let me know if this doesn't behave.

One's from the begining of the book, the other from the end and you can see which way. I don't think this is the sort of thing you need feel compelled to offer P though! We only got into it after doing a detective/comprehension piece on a timeline and Pip declaring this was *exactly* how she wanted HE to be. Funny girl :-)

Heather said...

And here's the link

I am aware of how crap those pics are, very sorry.

Allie said...

Thanks Heather - I'll show P tomorrow.

HelenHaricot said...

I alwyas read you blog, but jsut don't comment, so I thought i would - mainly to commiserate over determinedly not having a migraine [which is what I am doing here] and dreadful dreams - so hugs there.
I think Pearl and leo are fantastic kids, who seem very bright and able. Whatever you do must be suiting them perfectly.

Heather said...

I agree totally Helen, did I manage to make it sound like I was advising comprehension for Pearl?!!! I hope not!!!